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News Doomsday Clock

  1. Jan 16, 2010 #1

    russ_watters

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    CNN has an article saying the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has dropped their doomsday clock back 1 minute to 6 minutes to midnight.
    http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/01/15/doomsday.clock/index.html?hpt=Sbin

    The closest it has been is 2 min, in the 1950s and the furtherst is 17 minutes in the early '90s. It has only been adjusted 18 times. Here's the wiki showing the adjustments: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_Clock

    The purpose (originally) was to predict the likelihood of global nuclear war. According to the wiki, the purpose was expanded in 2007 to include "climate-changing technologies and "new developments in the life sciences and nanotechnology that could inflict irrevocable harm." That seems a little silly, especially considering the area of experties of the journal, but in any case, the new mission hasn't affected the setting much.

    From '88 to '91, it jumped from 3 minutes to 17 minutes. Since then, it went back down in:
    -1995: -3: Global military spending still high, poor ex-Soviet nuclear security
    -1998: -5: India and Pakistan explode nuclear weapons, Russian/US negotiations for further reductions stall
    -2002: -2: Concerns over nuclear terrorism, nuclear material securtiy, US intentions to leave ABM treaty.
    -2007: -2: N. Korea tests a weapon, the US talks tough on nuclear weapons for tactical use, continued security threats....and climate change.

    Originally, it was about global nuclear war, which implies to me a significant nuclear exchange between the US and USSR (which would also have to include western Europe). While there was no official change in definition (until 2007), since the end of the cold war, it appars to have been wound forward in response to much smaller threats than global nuclear war. Threats like terrorism, Pakistan vs India and difficulty in negotiating further reductions in weapons between the US and Russia. It seems to me that these threats pale in comparison to things like the Cuban missile crisis, but more to the point, none of the threats could possibly involve more than a small handful of bombs (many, like terrorism, just one). And a failure to further reduce the threat is seen as an increase in the threat? For a scientific journal, that's rediculously illogical.

    Anyway, I'm just wondering where the fear of nuclear war ranks on peoples' threat lists. To me, their current setting seems hugely pessimistic. For me, nuclear war sems about as likely as an asteroid crashing through my living room. It is certainly less likely today than from the period of 1960-1980 (including the Cuban missile crisis!), than which we are currently closer to midnight.
     
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  3. Jan 16, 2010 #2

    lisab

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    Yes, I agree, I can't see how one nuke blowing up somewhere would trigger a volley. Especially since the likely culprits would be terrorists, and where would we bomb in retaliation?

    Nuclear war isn't on my list of top 50 concerns, but it was a real fear of mine when I was a young teen, though.

    Btw...weird coincidence here...I was reading the "today in history" page in Wiki immediately before looking here in the P&WA forum, and the last thing on the list there was when the doomsday clock was changed in response to N Korea's actions in 2007.
     
  4. Jan 16, 2010 #3

    Evo

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    I always thought the doomsday clock was silly, personally.
     
  5. Jan 16, 2010 #4
    Not in the top 100 concerns for me.

    I am amazed at how stupid Nobel Laureates/Scientists can be ... idea of Doomsday clock is absurd.

    Bit of coincidence that I was just reading about the Kargil War and how both nations (and every other nation) were reluctant for a full scale war
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kargil_War

     
  6. Jan 16, 2010 #5
    The clock is a marketing tool to draw people attention to the issue of nuclear weapons and nuclear war. It is just like a coke ad so lighten up.
     
  7. Jan 16, 2010 #6
    It's an instrument that survives and thrives on pessimism. Not a great start for an unbiased opinion.

    I'm not very impressed by their clock-setting skills on the anarchy--the uncertainty in the succession of power and control of the military--following the Yeltsin-Gorbachev standoff and the dissolution of the USSR. These events had long term effects in reducing the probability of global thermonuclear war in raising the USA_USSR power imbalance, but constituted an increase in short term risk in my opinion.
     
  8. Jan 16, 2010 #7
    They are not unbiased. They are selling a certain idea. It is politics not science.
     
  9. Jan 19, 2010 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    How about if we look at it this way: Less than twenty guys with barely more than box knives bluffed their way into a successful attack on a few buildings - a catastrophic loss of life to be sure, but not even the same scale as our response. In return, we attacked two countries. If we respond in a similar proportion to something like a dirty bomb attack, or worse, a successful detonation of a nuclear device in a major US city, what do you think the reaction would be?

    The problem with scenarios like this is that we have no way to anticipate how things might escalate. In fact the military is constantly trying to anticipate many possible scenarios [perhaps thousands of them] at any particular time. If we took a serious hit, I would bet that you would soon see Senators and Congressman pounding their fists demanding that we convert the ME into a glass parking lot. An attack on N. Korea is also easy to imagine. Would it matter if they were involved? Was Saddam responsible for 911?

    What would it take to get someone like Sarah Palin elected?

    How do you put the genie back into the bottle? Can't be done.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2010
  10. Jan 20, 2010 #9

    russ_watters

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    I realize it is largely a marketing vehicle, but for a supposedly respectable journal and for something that is essentially an op-ed, it should be taken more seriously than just 'how can I hype this to sell magazines'. This isn't Time or Newsweek, it is a scientific journal.
     
  11. Jan 20, 2010 #10

    russ_watters

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    You asked the question - what's your answer? You imply that you believe an American President would respond to a nuclear terrorist attack with a strategic nuclear attack of his own (btw, that's the entire plot of The Sum of All Fears in one sentence). But I don't think any President, no matter how hawkish would do such a thing.
     
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